Freelancing can be a career stage

Posted by Prospect‘s Asia Pacific Team

Freelancing in Asia is a relatively new concept. We are glad to read that Jennifer Brindisi has taken to it like a duck to water.

By Jennifer Brindisi, Freelancer (Hong Kong)

In July I became a Freelance Writer and Consultant, following seven rewarding years at communications agencies in London and Hong Kong.

At the time it felt like a radical choice, but less so as time goes by. I produce the same products, only now in different locations. I read the same newspapers and still drink too much coffee. Indeed, the most surprising aspect of freelancing is how much of my life has remained the same.

That isn’t to say it hasn’t also been the most expansive and empowering period of my career. I’m teaching myself to become a faster, less critical writer. I’ve won business with three multi-nationals. I also now see clearly where I used to rely on others, now that I can only rely on myself.

As a mid-career professional, freelancing has so far proved to be an accessible challenge. I may return to a permanent position, but in the meantime, I can honestly say that if you want to better understand who you are, how you work best and what you want from your career, there is no substitute for a stint of self-employment.

For those who are considering going it alone, you’ll find yourself in good company. Freelancing is becoming mainstream: McKinsey estimates that 20 – 30 per cent of working age people in the West already engage in independent work and roughly one in six people in traditional jobs would like to turn freelance. Freelancers may even become the workforce majority in some economies.

It’s no surprise that many people dream of being their own boss: it is immensely liberating. I set my own hours, indulging my preference for working early in the morning but rarely late in the evening. I can start writing at home at 5am, take a break to go running and then head down to my co-working space. There, surrounded by thrusting young entrepreneurs, fellow freelancers and veteran investors, it’s impossible not to feel a certain frisson, the excitement of hundreds of people creating their own companies and careers.

But the flip side to being my own boss is that I am also my own employee. Without a team around me, it is hard to know when to take a break and I always feel as though I should be working harder. Like all consultants, I am immensely grateful to my clients and eager to keep them satisfied. I still think in terms of what is reasonable for an agency to deliver, only now I am an agency of one. Defining boundaries for myself is hard, but it is making me a more efficient and disciplined professional.

Freelancing has also made me more self-sufficient. The best feedback I get from clients is none at all: they are satisfied with my output. Learning to correctly interpret that silence has taken time. In the meantime I have missed swivelling round in my chair and sense-checking ideas with colleagues. But knowing that I can succeed independently – that my unfiltered judgement is considered sound by my clients – is immensely satisfying. If I return to a salaried role, I will do so with greater confidence in my capabilities.

Most importantly, self-employment has given me a deeper appreciation for my past employers. Shopping for my health insurance, selecting my co-working space and solving my computer conundrums have all been instructive experiences, but collectively a hassle. Only now do I realise all the resources that I used to take for granted as a salaried employee. I also have a new respect for my friends and former employers who started their own businesses and manage to employ others in addition to themselves.

So, if you’re looking for a new challenge with unparalleled independence, freelancing may be for you. For all of the risks, it has certainly made me more efficient, confident and appreciative. Self-employment doesn’t have to be a permanent choice and even a short stint can deliver lasting rewards.

This article was first published by Telum Media

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